Excess moisture in the ear can cause bacterial growth that leads to swelling and inflammation, and results in a painful infection known as external otitis, or Swimmer’s Ear. If left untreated, serious side effects – including hearing loss and damage to skin and cartilage of the outer ear and bones of the lower skull – can occur.
What Causes Swimmer’s Ear?
Excess water in the ear canal is the primary cause of Swimmer’s Ear, but there are other factors that can contribute to the condition. Sand, dirt and debris can all collect in the ear canal and cause inflammation. Other causes include allergies, soap, shampoo, bubble baths, cleaning the ear canal with a cotton swab or sharp object such as a bobby pin or fingernail, skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, excess perspiration and exostoses, bony growths in the ear canals. The condition is more likely in those with narrow ear canals, and in individuals who live in warm and humid climates, have impacted earwax, and have had a head injury. Those who have had Swimmer’s Ear in the past are also at a higher risk of developing it again.
Treating Swimmer’s Ear
Swimmer’s Ear is a painful condition that can include itchiness, swelling, a feeling of fullness in the ear, drainage, and temporary hearing loss. Pain is often worse when chewing or touching the earlobe.
Home treatment often works to relieve the symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear. Eardrops consisting of a warm saline solution, or a 50-50 mixture of white vinegar and warm water can be used to rinse and flush the ears. Apply a warm compress to the ear, and treat pain with over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. If the condition persists, your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection.
Swimmer’s Ear can often be prevented by using swimmer’s earplugs before entering the water, or wearing a shower cap when bathing. Apply eardrops with a mixture that is half white vinegar and half rubbing alcohol before and after swimming. Always dry your ears thoroughly after exposure to water, and avoid inserting anything into your ear canal.